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In 1974, Michael Chase Walker was living in India researching and acquiring artistic properties for possible productions as full-length animated features. After a chance meeting with former Beatle George Harrison, the two began discussing the prospects of starting an animation studio together. Later that year, in New York City, Walker was interviewing potential animation directors to oversee preproduction.
At the time Zander's Animation Parlour was one of the finest animation companies in New York. Zander's commercials for Clairol Herbal Essence, and Leggs Sheer Energy were the best on TV, and were designed by graphic artist Keita Colton. At dinner one night, Miss Colton gave Mr. Walker a copy of The Last Unicorn and suggested he make it his first animated production. Walker read it and fell in love with both Colton and the book. He called Maggie Field, Peter Beagle's agent at Ziegler Diskant Ross and was told the rights were tied up by Judy Balaban and Don Kwine for seven years. When Walker called Don Kwine and offered to buy the rights from him, he was so rudely rebuffed, he had little choice but to call Field back and persuade her to wrest the rights away from Kwine and sell them to him. She eventually relented, and Walker acquired the option in late 1974.
In the meantime Walker was approached by investors in Peoria, Illinois about starting his own animation studio and advertising boutique. Believing it was an excellent way to enhance his feature film ambitions, he founded But, Will It Play In Peoria? a full service animation studio. Fortunately, just as time was running out on The Last Unicorn option, The "Will It Play" creative team swept the regional advertising awards with their commercials for The First National Bank, and the bank, in turn, loaned Walker the $40,000 dollars he needed to purchase The Last Unicorn rights outright. A daring move that was unheard of at the time. Needles to say, Walker was convinced The Last Unicorn had all the makings of a timeless classic.
In 1978, Walker set up a development deal with Willie Hunt and Anthea Sylbert at Warner Bros. Studios after it was learned one of the most respected story analysts in Hollywood, Joe Richardson, called Unicorn a "true masterpiece" and much better than the "overrated Lord of the Rings".
Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings was six months away from release. If it went through the roof at the box office Warners would be in an excellent position to ride the next animation wave. Unfortunately, it flopped, and Walker was back to square one. It was time to bring in the heavy hitters. Walker called producer Daniel H. Blatt, (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) and struck up a deal to bring Unicorn to Martin Starger, the elegant, erudite, and powerful studio boss for Marble Arch Productions. Starger, who produced Harry Nielsen's The Arrow for ABC, was a big fan of animation and Peter S. Beagle. During the meeting, Starger casually mentioned that Jules Bass of Rankin Bass had been in town and had suggested The Last Unicorn as a possible Rankin Bass project. Walker pounced on it and called Jules Bass the next day. The two struck up a deal and set the development process in motion. Beagle was hired to write the screenplay, but. sadly, Walker could not convince Rankin or Bass to take a chance on Colton as art director.
Initially, Jules Bass offered Walker the chance to direct, Walker declined and elected to take an Associate Producer credit in exchange for a larger up front payment and back end percentage of the profits. Although it was a decision he would later regret, Walker felt he owed it to the many people who invested in him to forego his own credit for potential profit. Unfortunately, and before it was even released, the film was panned. Walker literally had to lug the 35mm cans around Hollywood himself just to set up screenings. ITC and AFD, Marble Arch's own distribution company refused to release it, and United Artists' Charles Lippincott called it 'the worst animated